The Culture Fit Interview
What is a culture fit interview?
Once rare, this is an increasingly vital part of the new hire vetting process. The culture fit interview assesses a person’s suitability for a role based on their apparent mores and ideals, and how those line up with a company’s core values.
Not familiar with the idea of core values or how to choose them? Check out Verne Hamish’s Scaling Up.
What’s the point?
Employee acting not in accordance with company values? That’s fireable. A good culture fit interview is meant to weed out those who’d get canned for value offenses down the line anyway. And of course— due diligence as to the general “I can work with you” vibe a potential new hire gives off.
Here’s an easy example: A commonly stated core value is kindness. This means being kind and acting with kindness in all ways and situations in which one represents the company. You know what’s not kind? Sending a nasty tweet to a competitor. Responding rudely to a customer. Being generally unkind to a vendor. Those are all fireable offenses. If kindness is a company value and you snidely deride a former employer, you’re probably not passing that interview.
Those offenses are not the end of the world, no, but if they fly in the face of a company’s core values, then not enforcing them may very well point to a lack of integrity all the way up to leadership. That’s not even a company you want to work for.
So how do you prepare for a culture interview?
Step 1: Do your homework
Research the company you’re interviewing with. How big are they? How new? How … funded? Is there a publicly visible team mission statement?
Find out what you can about what the company looks for in a candidate, even beyond the skills and professional experience needed for the role.
After your initial reconnaissance mission— well, do you even want to work for the company? If you know in your heart of hearts that you loathe working 1-on-1 with users and you’re applying for a CS role at a company with “take care of people” as a core value, then it might not be the place for you after all.
Step 2: Prepare questions
If you’re truly invested in landing a job at the company, you’ve gotta have a healthy level of curiosity about the goings-on there. I mean, you are interested in working there, right?
It’s the culture interview, so it won’t hurt to have some Qs prepared about things that’ll affect your employment experience. If you applied for a Customer Experience gig, you might be interested in what sort of user research is done, or how much emphasis is put on live chat versus asynchronous customer service communication. If you’ve never worked remotely and you’re applying for a role at a company with a 100% distributed team, you’ll be interested in what the company offers in the way of communication support.
Step 3: Be honest
You’re applying for a company that has a culture fit interview at all. That means there’s more at stake— more money, more responsibility, more impact— and it’s going to be at least one, ideally all three of those things. A good culture fit interviewer will be able to see right through your BS stories, so just be honest. Even if you BS your way through and happen to “win” the role, it probably won’t last long, and probably won’t end well.
The fact is, a culture fit interview isn’t just for the company to decide if you’re a fit. This type of interview is also a time for you to decide if you could possibly stand working with that team. This is the perfect time to measure how the culture and work-life balance needs you have may compare to what’s being offered.
TL;DR: There’s no mystery here
You’re not going to bat a thousand when it comes to culture fit, and that’s okay. This interim step between a traditional skill interview and getting hired helps ensure that there’s value for value happening from Day 1.
- Do I want to be associated with this company and their products?
- Are these values in line with my personal ideals?
- Is the value for value compelling enough for me to commit myself to this role?
If you’ve got a culture interview or two lined up, I strongly suggest you choose to view the experience as a chance to interview and assess the company. Look to measure suitability of the company’s role in your career path and desired work-life balance. Good luck!